Super Bowl Sunday

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, an annual sporting spectacle in the US which is probably unique for being a sporting event watched by many people across the globe in spite of the fact that no other nation- apart from Canada- has anything resembling a credible league based on the sport, never mind much of a clue about the intricate rules, plays and strategies that define the game.
It is, of course, more than just a game, with a half-time show starring Bruce Springsteen and with all of the razzmatazz one comes to expect from American sporting occasions. Within the US, the Super Bowl annually attracts the highest viewing figures of any sporting or non-sporting event, which explains the ludicrously high price of commercial slots during the 3-4 hour spectacle, now sitting at $3 million for 30 seconds.But this year’s Super Bowl is special for me personally due to the fact that my hometown favourites, the Arizona Cardinals, have defied all of the odds and somehow navigated their way into the end of season finale.
If ever a sporting team deserved the moniker of the Bad News Bears, it is the Arizona Cardinals. Just over 20 years since upping and moving out of St. Louis to Phoenix, the Cardinals have had just two winning seasons, reaching the postseason on only two occasions and regularly posting losing seasons.
In a league designed –due to the gloriously communist-inspired Draft system of recruitment– to ensure that teams are always rising and falling in America, the Cardinals have stood out due to their remarkably consistent mediocrity.
Based in Phoenix, the Arizona Cardinals are typical of that uniquely American nomadic sporting team, having found a home in three cities in its 100 year plus existence. The Racine Cardinals (named after a Chicago street) changed names to the Chicago Cardinals when a team from the ‘real’ Racine was formed, then upped and shifted to St. Louis for a lengthy spell, before wandering west in the late 1980s to find a home as the Phoenix- then Arizona- Cardinals (the latter name-change was a desperate attempt to endear the team to Arizonans residing outside of the capital city.)
In a country of 300 million people spanning 50 states and literally hundreds of cities (and, if we were judging a city by north of Ireland criteria, then probably thousands of cities…) the nature of the American professional sporting organisations has meant that the vast majority of Americans simply do not have a ‘home’ team to support at professional level. There isn’t a multi-divisional set up with promotion/ relegation of teams in any of the major US sports; instead at football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey level, the professional game consists solely of the teams within the top (and only) tier. For instance, the New England Patriots represent not a city but an entire region of the country, yet the country’s second largest city, Los Angeles, has no home team- but that’s another story.
Phoenix is very much a new city- though its name is taken from the fact the settlement was built in the late nineteenth century on the site of a former native American tribe’s settlement. The demographic growth of the city has been little short of remarkable, with the post-war years witnessing a westward migration that would find hundreds of thousands settling in the relatively new city in the middle of the desert. A significant proportion of the four million plus residents of the ‘Valley of the Sun’ today were born and raised elsewhere, bringing their hometown sporting allegiances with them, making it difficult for a city with three of the four local major sports teams being less than two decades either in existence or as residents of the city.
For instance, the visit of the Chicago Cubs to the Valley in the heat of the summer baseball season always brings out waves of Midwest migrants and their descendants from the Windy City, who make up a sizeable community in the Valley.
The fact that the first playoff game just a matter of weeks ago wasn’t sold out until minutes before kick-off in the team’s splendid University of Phoenix Stadium (complete with retractable pitch and roof, no less) has been forgotten about as Phoenicians relish the taste of the sporting success which has long eluded Valley residents (with the notable exception of the already legendary 2001 World Series triumph of the city’s Diamondbacks against the Yankees.)
Facing the greenhorn Cardinals will be the formidable Pittsburgh Steelers, who are favoured to add to their Five Super Bowl titles in Tampa tonight due to their strong defense and considerably more impressive regular season performances. The Steelers are owned by Dan Rooney, who is favourite for the position of new US Ambassador to Ireland.
The two cities (and home states) couldn’t be more contrasting; Pittsburgh is, by American standards, an old city, still wearing its industrial badge as the ‘Steel City’ through the Steeler label, though the industry has long waned. Whilst Arizona was the 48th State to enter the Union in 1912, the US Constitution was written in Pennsylvania, and it was officially the second state to enter the Union in 1787.
Politically, Arizonans are amongst the most conservative in the States- and nowhere more so than in Phoenix- with only Clinton managing to persuade the state to vote Democratic at a Presidential election since 1952 (and at that only once); Pennsylvania, of course, remains one of the key presidential battlegrounds every four years, though Democrats have taken the state in the past five presidential elections.
The contrasting demographic profiles of the two States is illustrated through the Electoral College votes attributed to both states, with all that entails for the rising and falling political influence of either state- the Electoral College votes are translated into Congressional power, increasing or decreasing the number of House of Representative seats. Pennsylvania’s Electoral College voting power once stood at 38 votes; today it has fallen to 21, and will likely fall again after the 2012 Review which follows the 2010 Census. Arizona’s Electoral College vote has risen from four to ten since 1960, and will likely increase following the 2012 Review.
If the Cardinals do triumph, there will be a special mention for one former player who is probably the most revered player to have represented the team in the city of Phoenix, Pat Tillman. Tillman played varsity football for the Phoenix-based Arizona State University (ASU) and was drafted by the Cardinals, remaining with the team in spite of a multi-million dollar offer from the vastly superior St. Louis Rams during his time with the Cards.
After the September 11th attacks, Tillman gave up his lucrative contract playing professional football to enlist in the US Army along with his brother. Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in a highly publicised and controversial ‘friendly fire’ incident in 2004. A statue dedicated to Tillman is located outside the team’s University of Phoenix Stadium.